Proposals Chipping Away at the Midblock

One of FRIENDS’ earliest initiatives, led by our founder Halina Rosenthal, was the successful effort to bring contextual zoning to the midblocks of the Upper East Side. The R8B zoning district was mapped across vast swaths of our midblocks in 1985, hailed by the New York Times as “the most sweeping zoning change in the area since 1961.” Since then, R8B has been one of our most reliable and successful mechanisms to preserve the low-rise neighborhood character of our side streets.

But this tool is under attack. Two projects in the pipeline seek to upzone portions of the midblock to redevelop their sites. Northwell Health continues to advance its proposal to expand Lenox Hill Hospital, including a bulky hospital tower on Lexington Avenue that far exceeds zoning. And the New York Blood Center, a modest through-block building on East 67th Street between First and Second Avenues, seeks to replace its structure with a 300+ foot building with a floor plate larger than the Empire State Building’s tower.

Not only are these projects vastly out of scale for the neighborhood, they have troubling implications for the integrity and character of our low-rise midblocks. For 35 years, R8B zoning has successfully preserved the scale of the side streets by capping height at 75 feet to resemble existing buildings, many of which are row houses and tenements not more than 5-6 stories. R8B is one of the fundamental planning tools that has preserved the Upper East Side, and these projects not only push the envelope, they tear it to shreds. If the City allows these projects, then what’s next for our midblocks?

Though neither project has entered the official public review process, there will be updates on both projects at next week’s Community Board 8 Zoning and Development meeting. Join us at the meeting on Zoom on November 17th to learn more and ask questions of these two proposals.

CB8 Zoning and Development Meeting
Tuesday, November 17th, 6:30 pm
Agenda and Zoom access HERE

Lenox Hill Hospital Proposal at Lexington Avenue.

Blood Center proposal at East 67th Street.